Try these Azalea Festival-inspired treats

Published 12:03 am Saturday, April 18, 2015

Shown is a table setting with Azaleas. | Connie Anderson/Star-News

Shown is a table setting with Azaleas. | Connie Anderson/Star-News

We have spent the last week in Wilmington, N.C. at the 68th Azalea Festival. Our house which we have owned for 38 years was the ribbon-cutting house for the Historic Wilmington Foundation House Tour. So I spent the week cleaning, and cleaning again, and my painter/carpenter finally got the outside finished (he has been working since December), but he did a great job and the house looks so clean and fresh. This was our incentive for doing the tour! My husband got the yard in shape, even working with rain every day.

Our home in Wilmington was built in 1851 by Duncan Kirkland McCrae, a noted N.C. lawyer, politician, orator and diplomat. He served with distinction as a colonel in the War Between the States. Another family purchased the house in 1866 and remained prominent in the local community. The second generation of Willards, Martin S. Willard, made a good deal of money in the insurance business, insuring cotton shipped from N.C.’s largest city to the world. In 1896 he hired a N.C. architect to renovate and enlarge the house, and the house remains much as the family left it. It is a cream-colored stucco with iron grillwork flaunting itself on the corner of 6th and Orange. One notable feature is the working gas lights in the house.

Mrs. Willard in 1925 helped establish the Cape Fear Garden Club which has been involved with the Azalea Festival since its beginning in 1948. They have been opening private gardens for touring since 1953. The Historic Wilmington Foundation is sponsoring its 24th annual house tour. The Azalea Festival is estimated to attract 200,000 people to its many events.

Many famous people have attended the Azalea Festival over the years. Notable was Ronald Reagan, who participated in the 1969 Azalea Festival. I found my old 1982 cookbook, “A Cook’s Tour of the Azalea Coast,” and in there was a crabmeat casserole given by Nancy Reagan. I thought it was worth sharing.

Crabmeat Casserole

Serves 8

1 (20-ounce) can artichoke hearts

1 pound crabmeat

½ pound fresh mushrooms, sautéed

4 tablespoons butter

2 ½ tablespoons flour

1 cup cream

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup medium dry sherry

Paprika to taste

Cayenne to taste

Pepper to taste

½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place artichokes in bottom of a 2 ½-quart baking dish; spread a layer of crabmeat. Add a layer of sautéed mushrooms. Melt butter in a saucepan; add flour, cream, salt, Worcestershire sauce, sherry, paprika, cayenne and pepper. Stir well after each addition to for a smooth sauce. Pour sauce over artichoke-crab layer and sprinkle with cheese on top. Bake 20 minutes.

I had the pleasure of seeing Bob Hope in person at the 1981 Azalea Festival. It was great fun. I have a recipe from the same cookbook for Bob Hope’s favorite lemon pie.

Bob Hope’s

Favorite Lemon Pie

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 cup water, boiling

4 eggs, separated

2 tablespoons butter

Rind of 1 lemon, grated

4 tablespoons lemon juice

Pinch of salt

2 tablespoons sugar

1 (9-inch) pie shell, baked

Combine in saucepan cornstarch and sugar. Add water slowly, stirring constantly, until thick and smooth. Add slightly beaten egg yolks, butter, lemon rind, juice and salt. Cook 2 or 3 minutes. Pour into baked pie shell. Cover with meringue made from 3 egg whites, beaten stiff with 2 tablespoons sugar. Bake in slow oven 15 minutes or until lightly brown.

One Azalea Queen was infamous. In 1989 the Azalea Queen was dethroned when it was discovered she had been playmate of the month, February 1986. We have none of her recipes.